A grand opera that dominated the stages of Europe for most of the 19th century, Robert le diable is a masterpiece. Director Laurent Pelly breathes new life into Giacomo Meyerbeer's great spectacle and audaciously entertaining moral fable, in this colourful new staging for The Royal Opera. The wonderful score includes brilliant arias, dramatic ensembles, rousing choruses and a ballet of ghostly nuns, and with the wavering hero of the title sung by Bryan Hymel, acclaimed for his role as Énée in Les Troyens for The Royal Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, this is an unmissable experience.
What the press said: Read more ''...some amazing singing. Bryan Hymel as Robert and Patrizia Ciofi as his beloved Isabelle tackle their immense roles with tremendous panache and stamina.'' The Guardian
''the production is worth seeing for anyone interested in the history of opera and it may well be another 120 years before Covent Garden stages it again.'' Washington Times
ROBERT LE DIABLE
Robert – Bryan Hymel
Isabelle – Patrizia Ciofi
Bertram – John Relyea
Alice – Marina Poplavskaya
Alberti – Nicolas Courjal
Master of Ceremonies – David Butt Philip
Second Chevalier / Herald – Pablo Bemsch
Prince of Granada – Ashley Riches
Fourth Chevalier / Priest – Jihoon Kim
Raimbaut – Jean-Francois Borras
Lady-in-waiting to Isabelle – Dušica Bijeli
Royal Opera Chorus
Royal Opera House Orchestra
Daniel Oren, conductor
Laurent Pelly, stage director
Recorded live at the Royal Opera House, December 2012
- The Legacy of Robert le diable
- Cast gallery
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: LPCM 2.0 / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, French, German, Japanese, Korean
Running time: 211 minutes (Opera) plus 11 minutes of features
No. of DVDs: 2
R E V I E W:
MEYERBEER Robert le Diable • Daniel Oren, cond; Marina Poplavskaya (Alice); Patrizia Ciofi (Isabelle); Bryan Hymel (Robert); John Relyea (Bertram); Jean-François Borras (Raimbaut); Nicolas Courjal (Alberti); Royal Opera Ch & O • OPUS ARTE 1106 (2 DVDs: 211:00) Live: Covent Garden 12/15/2012
Robert le Diable marked two important firsts for Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791–1864): it was his first opera composed to a French rather than an Italian libretto, and his first collaboration with librettist and exact contemporary Eugène Scribe (1791–1861). It was a smash success upon its premiere on November 21, 1831, defining the genre of grand opera, and by some accounts was the most performed opera of the 19th century. (The act 3 ballet, in which a group of debauched nuns rise from their graves to reindulge their carnal appetites, created a sensation, though it doubtless later provided ammunition for the influential antisemitic element in the conservative wing of the Roman Catholic Church in France for attacks upon the composer at the end of the century, contemporaneous with the Dreyfus scandal and the rise of the fascist Action Française.) However, once the fashion for grand opera waned after Meyerbeer’s death, the composer and his works sank into desuetude, from which he and they have fitfully but increasingly emerged in the last 30–40 years, as former shibboleths and prejudices against him have waned and his contributions have been re-evaluated.
The booklet that accompanies this DVD release features an uncommonly intelligent essay by Robert Letellier, which argues that, contrary to the standard portrait of Meyerbeer as someone who merely catered to the bourgeois tastes of his time and sought and achieved success through spectacular but superficial musical and dramatic effects, the composer in fact had far loftier and more substantive concerns: “Much of Meyerbeer’s work as a dramatic artist focuses on the theme of faith and what this means in terms of the great choices of life....His most famous French operas [Robert le Diable, Les Huguenots, Le Prophète, L’Africaine] constitute a tetralogy in which the issues of faith, history, society and personal choice interact with the demands of intransigent religion and politics.” In the particular case of Robert le Diable, a “theological dimension” of “a spiritual drama about sin and salvation” is intertwined with such issues as “the attainment of the balanced personality, the issues of heredity and the demands of life fully lived in the present. It is also about making social and political choices between opposing and equally absorbing options: on the one hand party affiliation, the pursuit of corporal pleasure, financial acquisitiveness and sexual license; on the other, the quest for higher, spiritual and more altruistic ideals.” Moreover, Meyerbeer’s contemporaries understood the seriousness of his objectives as well, with for example the noted and highly influential author and critic Théophile Gautier (1811–1872) writing a penetrating critique of Le Prophète in 1858–59 which discussed that opera and its two predecessors as forming “an immense symbolic trilogy, filled with profound and mysterious meaning: the three principal phases of the human soul are represented there: faith, examination, and illumination.”
Since Christopher Williams provided a superb plot summary in his review in 27:1 of a 2003 CD set of the opera on Dynamic conducted by Renato Palumbo, I will omit that here and refer readers to his synopsis instead. The staging of this production is what I would term “postmodernist pastiche,” freely mixing updated elements of the setting of the plot (11th-century Italy) with those of its composition (19th-century France) and the present day. Act 1 is set in a French café that features the stereotypical red-and-white checkered tablecloths of many such establishments, but on the café roof are life-size plastic horses in neon day-glo colors (blue, green, red, orange, and yellow). The knights wear medieval suits of plate armor, but Robert wears a sport coat with portions cut away to expose the armor (apparently to signify his divided moral character, with deep longings for both good and evil), while the diabolical Bertram is clad in a dark full-body suit, plus a 19th-century full-length overcoat and enormous stovepipe hat. In act 2, the castle is a set of miniature cut-out frames of stone walls, turrets, etc., about five to six feet tall, set against a black and blue diamond checkerboard background, almost creating the effect of the characters moving through a child’s play set. Isabelle wears a kitschy headpiece consisting of a halo of little stars sticking out on wires, while Robert is now garbed in a full sport coat and open-necked dress shirt. Both Alice and Isabelle are arrayed in very simple dresses, the former in red and the latter in white. The plastic horses are now on ground level; the armor-clad knights float in, suspended in mid-air on wires, and are then lowered onto their faux steeds. In act 3, scene 1, the setting of mountainous clefts and caves is created with painted backdrops of thin black-and-white and red-and-white stripes. The ballet that follows in scene 2 has a red lattice framework backdrop and rectangular cage-like tombs from which the nuns emerge to cavort amidst gravestones. Act 4 utilizes the same set as act 2, with the addition of a throne in the foreground and the bathing of the proceedings in lime-green light. Act 5 uses an abstract stencil frame to suggest a church building, on either side of which Alice and Bertram respectively stand before cartoonish backdrops of a heavenly cloud bank and a giant dragon’s head. Somehow, this kitschy, tongue-in-cheek farrago of unmatched elements works better than the description of it sounds (it reportedly was roundly criticized in the British press); it strikes me as a little silly and at times perhaps slightly amusing, but it doesn’t disturb me or create any occasion for offense, unlike so much of current Regietheater.
The music itself strikes me as being of highly uneven character; in particular that of the first two acts seems quite ephemeral before Meyerbeer hits his dramatic stride with the opening of act 3. Even then, the best parts of the score are nowhere near a match for that of Les Huguenots, which followed a mere five years later; Meyerbeer greatly advanced in his craft during that short interval. However, this performance is musically excellent and presents the score to its best advantage. A CD recording of a live performance from Salerno, with a partially overlapping cast (Ciofi, Hymel, and Oren) was just issued by Brilliant Classics and reviewed by Lynn René Bayley in 37:1. Ciofi and Hymel are as excellent here as there: Ciofi, who has made a specialty of the role of Isabelle over the years, has in her top notes a bit of acidity and oscillation in the vibrato, but she is a committed and affecting interpreter. After taking a very brief time to warm up, Marina Poplavskaya is a superbly touching Alice, demonstrating why she is justly in demand for lyric soprano roles in opera houses all over the world. As Robert, Bryan Hymel lives up to his recent spectacular press coverage as the tenor Bryn Terfel (whom he resembles physically to no small degree); he is the real deal, with a ringing, securely produced voice possessing both heft and sheen, and is able to bang out the stratospheric high notes (even if a couple of roulades around high C and D sound a bit strained). For his part, John Relyea boldly steps into the shoes of Samuel Ramey in the role of Bertram and fills them most ably, with his firm, sonorous, sepulchral bass filling the theater and limning out the diabolical dimension of his satanic character. The supporting cast is generally fine, with the excellent Raimbaut of Jean-François Borras deserving special mention. In comparing this to the Brilliant Classics version, there is no question that this is the superior performance, with Poplavskaya, Relyea, and Borres all being notably superior to their counterparts on CD and Hymel in even better voice here. Conductor Daniel Oren has in the past struck me as being merely competent, but here he seems to have found some special inspiration and provides fine leadership from the podium that is both energetic and lyrical, while the chorus and orchestra of Covent Garden are up to their usual high standards. The recorded sound and film quality are both excellent as well. A cast gallery and a brief documentary, “The Legacy of Robert le Diable,” are provided as extras.
Like all of its predecessors on LP and CD (see the list in Bayley’s review), this version is not unabridged, though the cuts are relatively minor and far fewer than in most other versions. Likewise, by every other measure, this performance far outstrips all of those previous versions for superior singing, instrumental playing, and sound quality. It’s been far too long a wait, but at last all four of Meyerbeer’s grand operas finally have recorded performances in one medium or another (CD or DVD) that do them justice; highly recommended.
Robert le Diableby Giacomo Meyerbeer Performer:
Marina Poplavskaya (Soprano),
Jean-François Borras (Tenor),
Nicolas Courjal (Bass),
Bryan Hymel (Tenor),
John Relyea (Bass),
Patrizia Ciofi (Soprano)
Royal Opera House Orchestra,
Royal Opera Chorus
Period: Romantic Written: 1831; France
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
No ExcitementMarch 8, 2014By Robert E. (New York, NY)See All My Reviews"It is rare that I don't give positive reviews when requested, however, this is one of those rare occasions when I cannot. This production generated absolutely no interest or excitement on my part. This recording will definitely be on a shelf in my DVD library gathering a lot of dust for a very long time."Report Abuse
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